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By Steve Birr
Record cocaine production in Colombia is creating such a saturated market, gangs and traffickers are leaving excess coca leaves out in the fields to rot.
Coca cultivation is dominating the agricultural market in Colombia after a decade of decline. Production today even eclipses the cocaine output of Pablo Escobar’s infamous Medellin Cartel. Roughly 460,000 acres of coca is currently planted throughout the country, producing 710 metric tons of cocaine in 2015, up from only 235 metric tons of output in 2013, reports The Washington Post.
Gangs, traffickers and farmers are growing so much of the crop, excess coca leaves are being left rotting in fields. Prices are also falling amid the production boom, partially driven by financial incentives from the Colombian government to ditch coca leaves for legal alternatives.
FARC rebels and the Colombian government signed a peace agreement in 2016 ending more than 50 years of conflict, with a pledge from the rebels to transition farmers under their control from coca production to legal alternatives. (RELATED: Coast Guard Seizes Half A Billion Dollars Worth Of Cocaine Smuggled In Pacific)
“We’ve never seen anything like it before,” Luis Carlos Villegas, Colombia’s defense minister, told The Washington Post. “Frankly, we don’t believe violence is the right instrument to rid Colombia of coca.”
The Colombian government’s strategy for combating the record output is inadvertently fueling the problem. The government is paying farmers who kill their coca plants in cash, incentivizing farmers to plant as much coca as possible before officials arrive in their community to give out the money.
The boom is also directly fueling a slow resurgence in cocaine use in the U.S. The opioid epidemic is the current focus of lawmakers, however cocaine use appears to be on the rise for the first time in 10 years. Cocaine was responsible for 13 percent of fatal drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2015 and 90 percent of the cocaine came from Colombia, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Cocaine use increased among young Americans between 2013 and 2015, over the same period cocaine cultivation began increasing again in Colombia.
“What is happening is the counterargument to the suggestion that demand always drives supply,” William Brownfield, head of narcotics enforcement for the State Department, told The Washington Post. “In this case, any rational observer would say the supply of the product right now is dramatically greater than the demand.”